Gold Funds Shine as Economies Sink

A week ago, the price of gold broke out to a three-month high of $916.30. For the week ending Thursday, Jan. 29, the spot price of gold rose 6% to $908.65. The move to gold for wealth preservation shows a lack of faith in the future value of the U.S. dollar and other currencies. That's happening as governments worldwide rev up their printing presses to spend billions of dollars to stimulate their flagging economies.

In comments from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Barrick Gold ( ABX) Chairman Peter Munk predicts gold will top $1,000 an ounce this year as frightened investors seek protection from uncertain markets. A trade above $1,032.70 would break the high point set on March 21, 2008.

For the five trading days under review, the average precious metals fund we track gained 6.7%, excluding inverse funds that sell short metals miners or futures contracts linked to gold bullion.

Demand for gold as an investment has never been higher, with the SPDR Gold Trust ( GLD) setting a new record of 843.6 metric tons of gold in their bank vaults. The more cash invested in the SPDR Gold Trust, the more gold bullion bars this fund buys and stores.

The best-performing precious metals funds were closely tied or leveraged to the price of gold, with E-TRACS UBS Bloomberg CMCI Gold ETN ( UBG) topping the list at a 14.95% return for the period. PowerShares DB Gold Double Long ETN ( DGP) did nearly as well at 12.67%.

At 150% leveraged to the mining shares in the Dow Jones Precious Metals Index, the ProFunds Precious Metals UltraSector ProFund ( PMPIX) jumped 12.54%.

With a portfolio of around 200 mining companies, the US Global Investors World Precious Minerals Fund ( UNWPX) returned 10.14%. One holding, Central Sun Mining ( SMC), more than doubled in value, up 105%, in a bidding war between rivals to acquire this Nicaraguan penny stock.

Other big percentage gainers included New Pacific Metals ( NUXFF), up 71.1%; New Gold ( NGD), up as much as 60%; and Great Basin Gold ( GBG), up 50%.

Best-Performing Precious Metals Funds for the Week Ending Thursday, Jan. 29
Fund (Ticker) Rating
Fund Type
1 Week Total Return
E-TRACS UBS Bloomberg CMCI Gold ETN (UBG) U
ETF
14.95%
PowerShares DB Gold Double Long ETN (DGP) U
ETF
12.67%
ProFunds Precious Metals UltraSector ProFund (PMPIX) E-
Open-End
12.54%
ProShares Ultra Gold (UGL) U
ETF
11.41%
US Global Investors World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX) C-
Open-End
10.14%
Midas Fund (MIDSX) E
Open-End
9.69%
Gabelli Global Gold Natural Resources & Income Trust (GGN) D+
Closed-End 
9.48%
Rydex Series - Precious Metals Fund (RYPMX) C 
Open-End
9.40%
Market Vectors - Gold Miners ETF (GDX) C-
ETF
9.35%
Tocqueville Gold Fund\The (TGLDX) C+
Open-End
9.13%
Source: Bloomberg & TheStreet.com Ratings

When the prices of precious metals rise, the inverse bullion funds fall. For the week ending Thursday, Jan. 29, the silver bullion spot price rose 8.41%.

Multiplying 200% negative leverage to that movement roughly corresponds to the minus 16.03% drop of this week's worst-performing fund, ProShares UltraShort Silver ( ZSL). Likewise, ProShares UltraShort Gold ( GLL) declined 11.36%.

As these types of funds attempt to track the daily performance of underlying indices or commodities, both the long and short funds can decline. So, while the PowerShares DB Base Metals Long ETN ( BDG) sank 8.15% on recession-level demand for base metals, the PowerShares DB Base Metals Short ETN ( BOS) also had a down week, off 2.91%.

Worst-Performing Precious Metals Funds for the Week Ending Thursday, Jan. 29
Fund (Ticker) Rating
Fund Type
1 Week Total Return
ProShares UltraShort Silver (ZSL) U
ETF
-16.03%
ProShares UltraShort Gold (GLL) U
ETF
-11.36%
PowerShares DB Gold Double Short ETN (DZZ) U
ETF
-11.04%
ProFunds Short Precious Metals ProFund (SPPIX) U
Open-End
-8.78%
PowerShares DB Base Metals Long ETN (BDG) U
ETF
-8.15%
PowerShares DB Gold Short ETN (DGZ) U
ETF
-5.70%
PowerShares DB Base Metals Short ETN (BOS) U
ETF
-2.91%
PowerShares DB Base Metals Double Short ETN (BOM) U
ETF
-2.42%
iPath Dow Jones-AIG Aluminum Total Return Sub-Index ETN (JJU) U
ETF
-2.16%
iPath Dow Jones-AIG Industrial Metals Total Return Sub-Index ETN (JJM) E
ETF
1.14%
Source: Bloomberg & TheStreet.com Ratings

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported fourth-quarter GDP shrank at a 3.8% annual pace. This helped the spot price of gold to continue its rally.

As a sign of bullish times for precious metals, demand for gold is high enough that Cash4Gold, a company that buys unwanted gold jewelry from the public, bought a 30-second Super Bowl commercial featuring celebrities like M.C. Hammer and Ed McMahon in need of cash.

For more information, check out an explanation of our ratings.

Kevin Baker became the senior financial analyst for TSC Ratings upon the August 2006 acquisition of Weiss Ratings by TheStreet.com, covering mutual funds. He joined the Weiss Group in 1997 as a banking and brokerage analyst. In 1999, he created the Weiss Group's first ratings to gauge the level of risk in U.S. equities. Baker received a B.S. degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.B.A. with a finance specialization from Nova Southeastern University.

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